Ranking Every WWE Championship Match in Royal Rumble History

The Royal Rumble is often an excuse for the WWE title to take a backseat for one night, but there have been some crackers at the PPV.

Cactus Jack vs Triple H Royal Rumble

My next Royal Rumble column looks at something other than the Rumble. It looks at the WWF/E title matches that took place at the Rumble.

There are some real hidden gems in this set of matches. And in case you forgot, I decided to rank them for you so you could go out and find them to watch!

A couple of disclaimers:

  • This is WWF/E title matches only. This does not include World title, Universal title or ECW title matches. I wanted to stick to a specific title and not have to run over 50 matches. I didn’t want the list too long.
  • I decided not to include the 1992 and 2016 Rumble matches with the title at stake. I think the Rumble match is just a different beast than a normal title match and should be treated as such. Plus, my love for the ’92 Rumble match is well known and it would be my automatic number one.

With those out of the way, lets get to the actual list!

27. 1991: Ultimate Warrior (c) vs Sgt. Slaughter

What do you get when you combine an over-the-hill Sgt. Slaughter and someone who could never work a lick in the Warrior? The worst match on this list. Bear hugs, clotheslines, outside interference and more. This match moves at a snails pace and might be the worst WWF match in the Warrior’s career.

26. 2004: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Hardcore Holly

Look. I understand why they did this. The story was there. Brock injured Holly’s neck and caused him to miss time. And I am a believer that you should make title matches at the Rumble you normally wouldn’t since the Rumble sells itself. But you should still try to have a good match. This was six minutes that I wish I had back. No one actually thought Hardcore was winning the title here and the crowd did not care one bit.

25. 2005: JBL (c) vs Kurt Angle vs Big Show

I watched this match and just kind of sat there and went, meh. Big Show gets laid out twice during the match. Once in the middle of the match so he could rest. I really don’t like that spot in these matches. Then Team Angle 2.0 and JBL’s Cabinet all get involved and Angle eats the pin for some reason for the finish.

24. 2014: Randy Orton (c) vs John Cena

This match never had a chance. They could have gone out there and had a seven-star Tokyo Dome match, and the crowd would not have cared. I was in attendance for this match and the crowd made it known they wanted Daniel Bryan. I personally think John Cena and Randy Orton have horrible chemistry, and never really had a great match together. This was no different. That plus a crowd not caring makes this a disaster.

23. 1994: Yokozuna (c) vs The Undertaker – Casket Match

I’ll say this about Yokozuna’s WWF title run: Were his matches ever good? Not really. But I could tell from all of them that he was always at least trying for a man his size in the ring. He wasn’t crazy overweight in this match like he would be a couple years later. But he did the best he could for a man his size in my opinion. But the match still ends up on the low side because of it. Plus, the whole ending with 10 guys helping you win is weak.

22. 2010: Sheamus (c) vs Randy Orton

Two heels going one on one! Okay I like it! Randy Orton was riding a hot streak going into this match and the crowd loved him as he was starting to show more of a sadistic side. Sheamus just won the title after beating John Cena the month before. But these two did not click in the ring. Not only that, but the finish was just awful. Cody Rhodes comes out and elbows Sheamus. The ref sees it, Randy Orton hits a RKO, then calls for the bell. An absolute weak sauce finish.

21. 2011: The Miz (c) vs Randy Orton

I remember being mad at the time that the WWE didn’t go through with Miz vs Morrison on this show. Morrison was gaining momentum and the crowd was getting behind him. But they went back to the Orton well here. Miz and Morrison had history and ended up having a really good match on RAW earlier in January. But even a Miz/Morrison match wouldn’t have saved us from the awful commentary of Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and Matt Striker. It makes a meh match even worse.

20. 1996: Bret Hart (c) vs The Undertaker

This match goes nearly 30 minutes and ends with a DQ. I would have been pissed if I had been there for that. Just like 95 these are two fan favorites but unlike last year the match isn’t as good. The ending is just as bad. I guess I get why it went on last given the angle setup between Diesel and Undertaker, but that doesn’t justify the bad showing here. Even from Bret. It is way too slow paced for these two guys. We saw they were capable of better later on at SummerSlam ’97. Way too many rest holds for a Bret Hart match.

19. 1997: Sid (c) vs Shawn Michaels

Shawn Michaels is capable of carrying anyone to a great match on his best day. He normally could on his worst day too. But the problem with Shawn Michaels wrestling Sid on this day is that he was legit dealing with the flu, which affected his performance. What we got was Shawn giving the best he could, which was a lot of Sid controlling the match until it was ready to finish. There is also a woman whistling the ENTIRE MATCH which is annoying. It was one of HBK’s friends from his hometown but good lord, no need to do it the entire match.

18. 2001: Kurt Angle (c) vs Triple H

Here is the problem with this match: It is pretty much the secondary story to everything else going on here. Two heels going at it so the crowd isn’t really sure how to react at first. Then Stephanie McMahon and Trish Stratus start fighting. Vince McMahon comes out to break it up. Stone Cold comes out and takes out Triple H after a ref bump. And the WWF Champion Kurt Angle wins after all of that, and he was probably the least relevant person in this whole story. That is never a good thing.

17. 2019: Daniel Bryan (c) vs AJ Styles

You would never think a match between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan would be this low. But it is. Something just didn’t click with this match. I felt like it never got out of first gear. It also had the problem of following Becky Lynch winning the Royal Rumble. These two are capable of much better than what happened here and I am sure they would both admit it.

16. 2006: Edge (c) vs John Cena

Run of the mill match for these two. They would go on to have better ones. Edge and just won the title after cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase. I kind of hoped he had more than a couple weeks with the title, but that would not be the case. Wrestling was fine but there was nothing too memorable about the match itself.

15. 2018: AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Something weird about a handicap match for the WWE title. Even with the talent in the match, I just don’t like the stipulation. Plus this was the time where Owens and Zayn kept getting title matches with no results in their favor. The match itself is not bad by any means, I just prefer average to slightly above average matches compared to this weird stip.

14. 2008: Randy Orton (c) vs Jeff Hardy

Jeff Hardy’s career year in the WWE started with a WWE title match and ended with a WWE title match. Now with this match, this is an example of taking a chance with your title match and it working. Jeff Hardy was always popular and his popularity was rising here. There was a bit of a split in the New York crowd but a good amount of them were behind Jeff. The finish was great with a perfectly smooth transition from a Twist of Fate to a RKO.

13. 2012: CM Punk (c) vs Dolph Ziggler

Man, I forgot how over CM Punk was. The crowd chanting for him before his music hits and the pop he gets when it does was great. This was in the middle of his feud with John Laurinitis and the match focused more on those two than Dolph Ziggler, who no one bought had any shot winning here. Punk had Ziggler beat clean three times with ref bumps. If it was the opposite it would make Ziggler look like he was robbed. But since it wasn’t Ziggler came off looking a bit weak.

12. 2009: Jeff Hardy (c) vs Edge – No DQ

Everyone, EVERYONE was waiting for Christian to show up here and be revealed as the person trying to take out Jeff Hardy in the build up to this match. But since everyone knew Christian was coming in, the WWE switched it up and had Matt Hardy take that spot. The match wasn’t bad. Jeff almost kills himself jumping off the ladder onto Chavo Guerrero because he didn’t set himself first. This was during the time frame the WWE played hot potato with the WWE title, where it went from HHH to Edge to Jeff Hardy to Edge from Survivor Series to the Rumble. Lots of interference but that is kind of expected in this match.

11. 1993: Bret Hart (c) vs Razor Ramon

Watching the rise of Bret Hart in the early 90s of the WWF is fun to watch. He was just going out there and having different matches with everyone. It is always amazing that this was Razor’s only WWF title match while in the company. I mean he got his first one after being in the company less than a year then never got another one for the three remaining years he was there. Bret’s ring psychology and selling for Razor here is great.

10. 1998: Shawn Michaels (c) vs The Undertaker – Casket Match

I know Shawn Michaels hated having to sell the spooky stuff of the Undertaker at this time. But his expressions in this match are great. Taker pulling him back into the coffin is a great visual. Taker grabbing HBK’s crotch and him selling it was great. It is still amazing the small contact HBK makes with the casket ends his career (for a while). But Michaels bumps like a mad man here and he always had great chemistry with Taker. I don’t think they ever had a bad match.

9. 1995: Diesel (c) vs Bret Hart

Don’t ever let anyone tell you Kevin Nash never sold. Nash sold like a champ in this match. Bret Hart worked over his legs the entire match and Diesel limped the entire match after. It was great. And the match is two babyfaces going to heelish lengths to try to win the match. It is great psychology. The problem? The finish. HBK attacks Diesel, match continues. Owen attacks Bret, match continues. More heels come out later, DQ. They didn’t want either guy to take a fall but that is a pretty big cop out to what was a really good match before that.

8. 2002: Chris Jericho (c) vs The Rock

Chris Jericho is undisputed champion. Yeah, I think everyone was surprised when that happened. Him and The Rock had really good chemistry on the mic and their match here was good. Rock Bottom through the announce table. Jericho stealing The People’s Elbow only for Rock to kip up and stop him midway. The Nick Patrick fake out at the end was actually good heat. The crowd was furious when he didn’t count the three.

7. 1999: Mankind (c) vs The Rock – I Quit Match

We all know the story of this match. Rock just absolutely obliterated Mankind with almost a dozen chair shots to the head. It is very tough to watch knowing everything we know nowadays about concussions. Even for back then it was a lot. Rock was becoming a huge star before our eyes. The ending is unique, using a pre-recording of Mankind saying “I Quit” from a promo to end the match. But the brutality of this match bumps it down a tad bit.

6. 2007: John Cena (c) vs Umaga – Last Man Standing

In the world of pro wrestling, whenever the unstoppable monster heel faces the top babyface, we know the result. And that result happened here as Cena defeated Umaga in a brutal last man standing match. The good thing? They made Umaga look like a complete bad ass all the way til the end. It took Cena choking out Umaga with the ring rope to win. Umaga bloodied up Cena pretty bad and Cena was barely standing as he left the ring.

5. 2013: CM Punk (c) vs The Rock

I was livid at the result of this match in 2013. Absolutely livid. Of course I was a huge CM Punk fan at the time. But funny story, I actually got a refund for this PPV as my feed died right before this match. So the cable company refunded my money. Despite The Rock getting blown up quite early, the match is good and the atmosphere is great. I still don’t think Rock should have won the title, and actually threw out how I would book this on the latest Hot Tag Wrestling Podcast.

4. 2000: Triple H (c) vs Cactus Jack – Street Fight

Poor Mick Foley. The man took an absolute beating at two straight Royal Rumble PPVs. But surprisingly this one is actually a bit safer than the 1999 match with Rock. How could a match with thumbtacks, barbed wire 2x4s and more chairs be safer? Well it isn’t The Rock hitting Foley multiple times in the head with a chair. Triple H’s matches with Foley helped make him a star. He also came out of this match a bloody mess. While it may have been safer, taking a Pedigree into thumbtacks is just insane.

3. 2015: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Seth Rollins vs John Cena

So much to like about this match. Seth Rollins came out of the match looking like a future main eventer. Brock Lesnar looked like an unstoppable monster. Him coming back at the end after going through the announce table and just looking like a beast was great. Rollins even sold for Lesnar, which again helped the star power of Rollins. And of course John Cena was no slouch either in the match. One of the best WWE triple threat matches of all time that just misses out on the #1 spot for me.

2. 2017: AJ Styles (c) vs John Cena

AJ Styles debuted at the 2016 Royal Rumble. At the 2017 Rumble, he was already WWE Champion and had a series of great matches with John Cena. This one was no different. Cena busted out a CODE RED. AJ kicks out of a Super AA. I can remember my Rumble watch party freaking out when that happened. Cena during this time period was great in the ring. The atmosphere in the Alamodome was great and added to this match. It may have been the best match between these two.

1. 2003: Kurt Angle (c) vs Chris Benoit

This may surprise some. But I LOVE this match. Is that weird to say about a Chris Benoit match? Maybe. But the guy was a great in ring performer and he and Kurt Angle went on to have a classic in the ring. Counters upon counters. Angle escaping the Crossface only for Benoit to apply the Ankle Lock. Benoit DDTs Angle on the apron before it was done all the time. How about a release overhead German suplex flipping Angle? This match is a hidden gem and doesn’t get talked about enough when it comes to great matches. The crowd is on their feet and these two guys aren’t doing anything crazy or insane to get them there.

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